“It is a joy to be hidden… but disaster not to be found.”
3 1/2 years ago, I was participating in an online roundtable about art in the digital age, and Ritesh Batra, a writer and film director, asked a question that I liked so much I wrote it on a 3×5 card that’s still hanging on the corkboard above my desk: “How do I hide and still be out there?”
Batra was speaking specifically about his filmmaking process: He was trying to work out how to balance showing his work, connecting with his audience, and maintaining a public presence online and off with his need to hide, to be private, go away, to withdraw into himself and his work long enough for good, creative stuff to happen.
His question, put another way, was: How do I hide and still be found?
Like all great questions, it seems to grow more important and more complex over time. I thought I’d handled it well in my book, the whole point of which was to outline how artists and other workers might set up a sustainable level of sharing while they work. It was, basically, a book for people who were great at hiding, but not so great at being findable. When I wrote that book, the internet, for me, was a place of opportunity, where, as Olivia Laing put it in The Lonely City, “You can reach out or you can hide; you can lurk and you can reveal yourself, curated and refined.” But even in 3 years, the internet has changed, and this question, How do I hide and still be out there?, it keeps popping up, nagging at me, most recently when I was writing about the myth of the artistic recluse.
We seem to have being out there nailed. We’re all of us, it seems, out there. Maybe we need some help learning how to hide again?
For me, that’s what this year has been about: Learning how to hide and still be found. How to stay connected overall, but how to disconnect in crucial ways that allow me to recover some calm, some privacy, some inner sense of self, so that I can make great things to share. Because if you don’t hide, at least a little bit, it’s hard to make something worth being found.